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tv   Battle of Cold Harbor 150th Anniversary  CSPAN  August 18, 2014 8:01pm-9:04pm EDT

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next on the civil war, historians and officials from the national park service commemorate the beginning of the overland campaign which took place in virginia 150 years ago in may and june of 1864. the ceremony includes keynote remarks by civil war scholar james robertson, who explains the strategy employed by union general ulysses s. grant against the confederates and how the campaign impacted the war as a whole. this event took place in spotsle vain yeah county, virginia, at fredricksburg and the national military park. it's just under an hour. >> as the armies of grant and lee marched in may of 1864natio. it's just under an hour. >> as the armies of grant and lee marched in may of 1864 the victory or defeat depended on their effortsfrom the new york herald april 13th, 1864. upon the campaign that we are about to engage there depends the greatest issues upon which
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men ever went into battle. we fight for the principles of free government, and for the existence of a nation whose institutions are the hope of the downtrodden people of every land. our success in this campaign must ensure the integrity of the united states by the final overthrow of the rebel down. success will give a new life to our country, and a new faith to the stability of free government to the world. it will also determine the next presidency as certainly as if the votes were counted. but if we fail in this campaign, that failure will be the greatest disaster in modern history. upon general grant there now concentrates the deepest interest with which the world ever watched the actions of a single soldier. he is the foremost man in the greatest contest of the age. >> when the nation and the world
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wanted to know how the civil war was going, they looked to virginia. that spring, robert e. lee and his army showed clearly as the confederacies greatest hope. ulysses s. grant had come east to manage the armies in virginia, but ulysses s. grant had never met robert e. lee in battle. at charlottesville -- a charlottesville newspaper editor wrote in april, the conflict has, in a sense, narrowed down to virginia. and to this campaign. uncertainty reigned in new york financial markets. gold inched upward towards $200 an ounce. the looming union presidential election gave confederates hope. from the richmond examiner, april 6th, 1864. there is a pleasing prospective collapse and ruin both financial and political for the yankee nation in this very year.
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it is due and overdue. but we must not forget to bring an account to a complete and final liquidation. we have to do our part, and our part is one crushing and crowning victory. and so, the armies came. >> welcome to all of you. we're very glad you're here. my name is john hennessy, i'm the chief historian at fredricksburg and spotsle vina national military park and we welcome you to the opening of the sesquicentennial of the 1864 overland campaign. before i really get started i'd like to introduce our guests here. some we see further introduction as we go. our great and honored guest is dr. james robertson, formerly of virginia tech, one of virginia's great historians. mike caldwell the regional director of the northeast reege
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of national park service is here this morning. superintendent lucy lawliss at fredricksburg and spotsylvania national military park and ashley whitehead luskey, from richmond national battlefield. and frank owe riley one of the historians here at fredricksburg. and our musician today is ray skon. if ever a single place reflects what this war came to be, this place is it. by the time the armies came to grapple over this piece of spotsylvania farmland in may of 1864 the stakes were so large the previous investment so big that neither side would let go. this war was no longer a conflict about secession, or even union. it was also about freedom, the extent and nature of the emerging government and the future of a united states striving for an identity and strength on the world stage. ulysses s. grant came to virginia in 1864 with a
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relentless determination matched only by the common soldiers and commanders. the men who had the most invested and the most to lose by the effort. robert e. lee by 1864 bore the weight of all confederate aspirations with an army no less determined than grant's but uncreasingly unable to fill the social, cultural and economic hopes of a nation. today we begin telling this story. we hope you will join us again and again over the coming days and weeks. john asley is a student from prospect heights middle school in orange, virginia. he's one of nearly 400 seventh graders from orange county public schools participating in the journey through hallowed grounds of the student, by the student, for the student, service learning project this year. the award winning project of the
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student, by the student, for the student, which john will tell you about, is in its sixth year and has been partnering with nps areas throughout the 150th observance from gettysburg to harper's ferry, antietam and in 2014 with fredricksburg and spotsylvania national military park. john ashley will also begin by leading us in the pledge of allegiance today, joined by jesse o'cain the director of educational programs for the journey through hallowed ground. john? >> >> can i ask that we all stand, and remove our hats for the pledge of allegiance. i pledge allegiance to the flag of the united states of america
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and to the republic for which it stands one nation under god indivisible with liberty and justice for all. >> delapization and decay marked the course of everything at old laurel hill. both people and place are gradually falling into ruins. an air of suffocating loneliness reigns, as the shades of everything come on. the wind has particular howling sound, as if ghosts and witches were mourning over the sad remains. this is a quote from catherine coos' diary which supports us -- which supplies us with a woman's and unionist account of the civil war in 164. she is my topic for the journey through hallowed grounds of the
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student, by the student, and for the student project. and this project students script, film, and edit mini movies, or broadcasts about the civil war and this region. this project has not only taught me the historical facts of the civil war, but the also often untold events that must be dug out of primary sources. these are things that are not simply found in a textbook because they cannot be put into words. but are definitely stories to be shared. broadcast from this year's project will focus on john w. patterson, a colonel that lost his life on the first day of fighting, may 5th, and sent his family into ruins. burke, an african-american, who joined the fight against slavery. the bloody intersection of orange pike road and brock road.
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the use of pontoon bridges in crossing the rapidan river and the constitutionality of secession. these experiences and stories, which take history out of the textbooks, and turn them into something that is alive, would not be found by me, or any students, without the of the student, by the student and for the student project. so for that reason, i would like to thank the journey for hallowed ground group, the fredricksburg and spotsylvania national military park, for expanding my knowledge and the knowledge of all those viewers of these broadcasts. i am sure they will thank you, too. [ applause ] >> how many of you are descendants of participants in this battle? pretty broad number. we hope you'll announce yourselves as you go on our programs. one of the things we've learned
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over time is that other members of the audience like to rub elbows with dna that has historical relevance. so, we hope you will announce yourself as we go. we are pleased today to have -- join us today the regional director of the northeast regent of the national park service mike caldwell. in most of the world the term regional director is not a pause, doesn't make your blood stir. but think about his job for a moment. in the national park service, mike caldwell is responsible for some of the most famous cultural and natural treasures on the face of the earth. from the bridge at concord to independence hall to thomas edison's laboratories, to skyline drive on shenandoah and the hallowed fields of gettysburg and of course fredricksburg and spotsylvania, as well. he's served nearly 25 years in the national park service, a career built largely on historical parks like valley
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forge, fort stan wicks, mon casey and new bedford waling. regional directors do a lot of things, of course, including managing a spirited and committed workforce. but by far the most important role is an advocate for the parks in communities with farthern partners and within the government. mike caldwell is a native of alexandria now residing near philadelphia. we are glad to have him as our regional director but more than that we are glad to have him here with us today. mike? >> thank you, john. first i think we should give another round of applause for john ashley. that was phenomenal. [ applause ] i'm here representing the secretary of the interior sally jewell, director john jarvis of the national park service, and on behalf of the entire department of the interior and the national park service, i welcome you to these events as we commemorate the 150th
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anniversary of the start of the overland campaign. we begin this morning with what certainly is the most expansive commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the civil war. continuing all the way to the battle of the crater at the end of july for civil war enthusiasts, which i see many in the audience, i saw many of you on the way down, 95 this morning as well. in many of the rest areas. for many of the civil war enthusiasts, the national park service will have many commemorative events in the coming months, and the couple years ahead. they will honor the stories of the soldiers to be sure, but also the places, and the larger stories that reveal the full reach and human impact of the civil war and the 1864 overland campaign. and this effort is not ours alone in the national park service. it takes many partners to make things like this happen. communities, along the road from
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richmond and petersburg, communities and partners have risen up to help us celebrate the civil war sesquicentennial. the friends of the wilderness battlefield, the city of richmond, and the american civil war center at tredegar, petersburg, fredricksburg, the central virginia battlefields trust and all these and many more have stepped up to help americans connect with their shared history. i'd like to give a round of applause to all the partners that have helped make this happen. [ applause ] no place in america suffered the repeated affliction of war like spotsylvania county did. four battles, a continuous presence of armies for most of two years. it was a transformative event that imposed suffering on most residents, and brought freedom for the more than 6,000 slaves who lived here. 150 years ago abraham lincoln in
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the midst of the civil war actually right about the time that the siege of petersburg began, he signed a bill giving yosemite to the state of california. really starting what we now know is the national park system. and here we are today, in part of that national park system. today spotsylvania is part of the same system as yosemite, as yellowstone, as many of the areas that we fondly have either visited, or we share in their preservation. and in the midst of the civil war president lincoln had the foresight to start to preserve these places, these special places that we still save today. as part of the national park system, places like gettysburg and spotsylvania will forever be an important part of our shared national identity. thousands of visitors from around the world visit these
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sites, and other civil war sites year after year so that we will never, ever forget what happened here. and why are we constantly drawn to remember? josh wow chamberlain who many of you know is a college professor, a soldier, a colonel and then a general after the war became a great advocate for the preservation of special places like we are on today. he explained, perhaps, better than anyone else his own connection to the great fields of the civil war. he said, in great deeds something abides. on great fields something stays. so think about that. something stays. understanding this is no academic exercise. the required no great study. it requires only your presence, like that of today. it requires a place to remember. it requires your mind's eye and
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the -- when the words of those who were here, like we heard when we kicked off the ceremony today. as you come to these places to celebrate this commemoration, or even if you are just out here on your phone, you know what joshua chamberlain was referring to. you understand what he was referring to. in the northeast region as john was highlighting we go from maine to virginia we care for many natural and cultural resources including many key historic resources that make up our collective history as a nation. they tell our nation it is an area where we were born and it is where our country came of age in the northeast. the nature of our business is that we cannot imagine these places alone. thank you for keeping these national treasures vivid, and viable, in the changing world that we live in. that so many of you are here this morning, and that so many thousands of you will be in the
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coming days and weeks that follow in the footsteps of history, and that you visit places like this speaks well to your commitment to the national park system. on behalf of secretary jewell and director jarvis, i offer profound thanks to all of you for caring enough to join us today, as we commence the nation's remembrance of the 1864 overland campaign. and i'd like to spend out a special thank you to lucy lawliss and her staff, as well as the many national park service volunteers here, who are here every day of the year so that we will never forget. thank you. [ applause ] >> from home towns like rich field, connecticut, and madison, mississippi, they came.
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soldiers, and those they left behind home sensed that the spring campaign of 1864 in virginia would be unlike any that had preceded it. from the newark, new jersey sentinel of freedom may 3rd, 1864. the impending tempest. the quiet which prevails in our armies is justly felt to be the hush which foreruns the tempest. the war will soon be poured out with unprecedented violence. the magnitude of the events which are now being shaped has produced a great feeling of deep solemnity in all thoughtful minds and even the giddy and thoughtless are rendered comparatively sober and sedate. none are so stolid of intellect or dull in feeling as to be unaffected by the tremendous issues which are now at stake, and the terrific tragedy that is about to be enacted. >> years after the war, a soldier from georgia bid his
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fellow soldiers to remember the beginning of the overland campaign. don't you remember the long row? do you remember how brigade after brigade filed into the road? do you remember the march from orange courthouse to the wilderness? when, while passing over some elevated point, you could look three or four miles in front, and see the long line of confederates with their guns glittering in the sunlight. and the same to be seen by looking behind you. do you remember how that inspiring scene made us think we could whip the world. >> we are a remembering people. in this tumultuous world of trauma and turmoil we insist not on forgetting, but remembering. it may seem odd to some of us that we do this.
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but again, and again, and again, over weeks and decades, and centuries, we remember. we are a remembering people. on 9/11, we remember. on patriots day, we remember. pearl harbor day, we remember. memorial day, we remember. we remember those who perished, certainly. we pray for those injured, and those left behind. their lives and families changed forever. but we also recall those who by their acts demonstrate the fundamental goodness of people. those who aid the injured, those who rush to protect our people and our nation. those who, caught in the midst of horror, show courage enough to act not solely in their own interests, but in the interests of others. we are a remembering people,
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because in some way, in many ways, we know that remembering, though sometimes painful, heals us. as a people we should remember far more often, and forget far less. today, this week, this spring, we come together on these virginia battlefields to remember. we do this for many of the same reasons we pause every 9/11, though our personal connection to these civil war stories is separated by a generation. we pay respect, we convey honor, we seek understanding. but we do more than that. this spring on the 150th anniversary of the 1864 overland campaign, our national park service asks us to remember not just as individuals, but as a nation. to reflect on not just the acts
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of participants, acts both noble and harsh, but to reflect together on our -- on our nation's winding complicated road forward to this day. let us recognize the civil war was not just an accumulation of milestones, dates, places, but a moving, massive national transformation. we learn, we understand, and i hope we come to value our nation as a result of the shared experience. we do these not merely as spectators, for though we may not realize it, we come here today, and the weeks ahead, possessed of a responsibility. there is a connective thread between those who lived here, fought here, suffered, and died and went on from here, and us, our ancestors did with the hope, even expectation that we take
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their struggle forward. we are a remembering people. in setting aside these hallowed fields, congress and the national park service ask us to remember, an essential and ongoing part of our national story. over the next days and weeks, our rangers will walk many miles, and fields with you, stand at places famous and some forgotten. we will share the words and stories of those who were here, soldiers and citizens alike. stories sometimes painful, stories often complicated. stories transcendent, all demonstrating the best of our nation. our rangers will evoke, and perhaps even provoke. we will do this all, i hope, mindful that our acts of remembrance help us render our forbears' hope and expectations fulfilled. it is a debt repaid, and we
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repay mindful that our acts of remembering help build a more perfect union. thank you for remembering with us. thank you for coming. >> before these were battlefields, these were home places. farms, communities, like thousands of others across america. war transformed them. armies churning across the landscape ruined much, and affected everything. slaves ran to freedom. civilians remaining behind suffered affronts, loss, and destruction that added bitterness to an already bitter war. from sally todd may 15th, 1864, whose house was caught in the fighting near todd's tavern about six miles north of here. mother was awfully frightened.
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but i did not think we would be killed. i was afraid the house would take fire, but thank god our lives were spared. the yankees were the meanest devils on earth. they killed all of our hogs, even the little pigs, and the cow, as it was too poor to eat. but they said they were such cows, killed every hen and took all of our food. broke every lock on the place, our corn, oat and wheat field are nothing more than the main road. pulled all the pailings from around the yard and garden and played destruction generally. but if we can only whip them, and gain our independence, i am willing to give up all. yes, everything. >> in the spring of 1864, the first united states colored troops arrived at the front in virginia. more than 3,000 men. some of them former slaves in orange, culpeper, spotsylvania
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and caroline counties, though faced with the prospect of reenslavement or death should they be captured, and though they entered an army hardly predisposed to embrace them, they and their white officers still came. on may 15th, 1864, about four miles north of here, the 23rd u.s. c.t.s, including several soldiers from spotsylvania county, engaged in its first combat with lee's army. much more was to come. including success in the initial attacks on petersburg, in june 1864. after that experience, one of the army's white soldiers wrote, a few more fights like that, and they will have established their manhood, if not their brotherhood, to the satisfaction of even the most prejudiced. and so they would.
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>> what happened on these fields reverberated across america to towns that we hardly heard of or hardly remember today or maybe have never even visited. to living rooms, and home places, and communities across the nation. and that is the double wound of war. not only the physical wounds on the field, but the pain that follows every death and every wound among the family and community from which it came. part of our commemoration of the 1864 overland campaign is reverberations where on may 24th we will be sending staff to communities across the nation and join in those communities to talk about how what happened here reverberated there. on the back of your programs that hopefully you'll be able to get on your way out of the event here today, you'll see a description of it.
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you can join us online. it will be live streamed. you can join us if you're in fredricksburg at the fredricksburg national cemetery. but we will connect these events to the communities to which they were so important. 150 years ago. for historians of my generation, doctor james i. robertson, bud, has been a giant. he has distinguished from many other members of academia with a tremendous commitment to the public's engagement in history. he writes, so you can read and understand it. he speaks in a way that made his classes the most popular history classes at virginia tech, and maybe in the whole world during his tenure. at that university. all of that was born of his passion and understanding of history. if you worked in a park that tells part of jackson's story, one of my little worries this morning is that our keynote speaker would get here on time
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and be here and then i remembered that he wrote a biography of jackson, and he was actually here before i was, as you can assume your surprise. but if you work in a park that tells any part of the story of the army in northern virginia, it's a refrain heard often when we talk about questions or matters of history. what does robertson say? we don't always use doctor when we're in the back room. but what does robertson say? and i would suggest to you that there's not a greater compliment that can be paid to a historian than that. and so it will be for many decades to come. this anniversary business is not new to dr. james i. robertson. at just 31 years old president kennedy appointed him as executive director of the nation's beleaguered commission for the centennial of the civil war. which he quickly righted. more recently he's been a key member of virginia's commission for the civil war us is skwi centennial bringing smart, scholarly guidance to what is
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widely considered to be the most successful commission in the nation by far. and between the centennial and sesquicentennial, he spoke proudly through one of the greatest careers of teaching and writing that any of us will ever see. he was the alumni distinguished professor in history at virginia tech for 44 years. he has written 18 books including the greatest of all biographies of stonewall jackson. today, as ourcis keynote speake he will speak to us about the opening of the 1864 oafland campaign. we are very honored to have with us today dr. james i. robertson. >> thank you john, very much. by the invitation to be the keynote speaker on this awesome occasion in history and commemoration. i also would like to extend
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greetings from the virginia civil war sesquicentennial commission square by asking of the house william hale. for you virginians this is a moment to take renewed pride in the heritage of your state. if you're not from virginia, we adopt you now. stay long, spend much, and enjoy yourselves here in the old dominion. 1864 was the critical year of the civil war. 36 months of bloody fighting had brought a steady erosion of territory in the western half of the confederacy. however in the east, where the war would be won or lost, the principle armies had fell to a stalemate. virginia was the birthplace of a nation whose government had been crafted largely by statesmen from the old dominion. now virginia was scarred and
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overrun by thousands of soldiers fighting to the death. door domination. as winter melted into spring in 1864 the simple question was, which one giveous first northern morale or southern resources? the union army of the potomac was on the north side of the rapidan river in what was the largest encampment of the civil war. a sense area marked by tree stumps, filth, dead horses and buzzards circling overhead. on the south bank was robert lee's army of northern virginia. it was in worse physical condition. but still defiant and ever dangerous. each side waiting for the inevitable resumption of battle. but 1864 would be different because of the entrance on the scene of one manu hiss grant.
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forced from the army in 1863 because of excessive drinking grant spent eight years in one failed venture after another. in 1861 his father secured him a colonel's commission and according to legend the father didn't fare well with these words, son you've got a good job now, don't mess it up. yet certainly this commission was certainly not based on good looks. to one observer grant was, quote, an ordinary scrubby looking man with a slightly seedy look. neither a conversationallist nor a mixer, he was a man who always seemed to be alone. nevertheless, while other union commanders were failing, grant had climbed steadily up the military ladder with resounding victories, stretching from fort henry in 1862, through vicksburg to missionary ridge in 1863.
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he was clearly the north's man of the hour. when lincoln ordered an east early in 1864 to take command of all federal forces. the somewhere near 500,000 combat ready soldiers grant would have authority over the largest post any american officer had ever led. the new lieutenant general wasted little time in making his strategic intentions known. in the past, grant asserted, union armies had quote acted independently and without concept like a bulky team of mules, no two pulling to the. and this allowed confederates to shift men from one sector to the other to meet the most pressing danger. union generals seemed content to maneuver. but that was not the road to victory, grant announced. the north had far superior numbers, and materiel. it was time to switch games.
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to stop playing chess, and to start playing checkers. now several union armies were to take the offensive simultaneously under grant's new plan. the main army. the army of the potomac would move directly against lee. a second force would head southward up the shenandoah valley. a third would cross the mountains into southwest virginia, and cut the vital virginia and tennessee railroad. a fourth army would advance up the james river toward richmond. meanwhile, general william sherman would drive southward, from chattanooga toward atlanta. grant himself chose to travel with general george meade's army of the potomac and he did so for a number of reasons. his presence would shield, for example, the north's chief weapon from congressional interference. congress was always interested in what the army of the potomac was doing. like most congresses it had no actions of its own, it was just
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always interfering. when sherman heard this, sherman who had a low opinion of congress and newspapers, sherman wrote to grant, i hope you will make it a death penalty for any congressman -- or for diplomatic reasons, grant did not do that. another reason why grant went with that army was its commander. george mead was seven years older than grant. he was a dedicated soldier but overly cautious. his army had done nothing for the last ten months. meade had a violent temper which he could not control. and when unleashed, said one officer, it sounded to one like cutting an iron bar with a hand saw. grant also knew that he had been appointed to initiate and arm a hopefully successful campaign. thanks to the advent of the telegraph grant could oversee all military theaters as easily
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in the field, as he could from a desk in washington. as to reactions from grant from inside the army of the potomac they were varied. captain oliver wendell holmes jr. stated there was quote a little jealousy, a little dislike, a little envy, a little warmth of confidence, all however are willing to give him a full chance. for if he succeeds, the war is over. now grant's 1864 strategy followed the same pattern he had always followed. he would device and try something, if it failed, he would try something else. but his determination never wavered. he would hammer unrelentingly at the enemy, applying pressure until opposition collapsed. in the spring, preparations, i think it is interesting to note that there were no parades, no
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views as mccountry lend and hoofer had always enjoyed. grant, instead, preferred to lie casually down the lines, looking intently into the faces of the soldiers who were going to be fighting for him. and giving the impression that it was far more important for him to see the men, than for them to see him. as for those veteran soldiers, all they wanted was a competent, aggressive leader. grant kept his distance and kept his silence. in april a newspaperman asked the general how long it would take him to get to richmond. grant spat at the man, a long time and then replayed well i will agree to be there in four days that is if general lee becomes a party to the agreement. and then grant added the trip undoubtedly will be prolonged. across the rapidan, lee waited.
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us unabashed aggressiveness and willingness to take risks to maximize the striking power of his small and ill equipped army. yet after two years of campaigning, we tend to overlook a vital factor about lee. his health was terminal. manpower was dwindling to critical levels, there was nothing he could do about it. he had problems of his own that included spaz modic diarrhea, rheumatism, mental fatigue, a year earlier he had suffered unquestionably a major heart attack for which he received no medical aid. the field of cardiology lay in the future. yet to his men, he was as pure a patriot as george washington. as april became may a young soldier in virginia made a prophesy in a letter home. i hope we will be able to give them a good thrashing for on
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this fight depends greatly our future safety. on wednesday, may 4th, the big federal push southward began. the lead elements of some 100,000 soldiers crossed the rapidan on two bridges and plunged immediately into a wooded darkness known as the wilderness. 12 miles long, six miles wide, it was a thick mass of second growth timber, dense underbrush, few clearings, little streams and never saw daylight and created unexpected ravines and marshes. visibility in the wilderness was measured in feet. it was the last place in virginia to pick for a major battle. now grants hope was to march rapidly through the jungle and get into open country to confront meade yet one of robert lee's distinguishing characteristics was an unwillingness to fight where his opponent wanted to fight.
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early in the afternoon of may 4th, the blue columns halted in the woods to allow the long wagon trains to catch up with the infantry. lee's army only half the size of grant's could not compete in a stand-up fight. a superior union artillery was nullified because of the thick tangle of wilderness. union soldiers had to add advance along rows no wider than 20 feet and hemmed in on both sides by a big woods. this offered lee a momentary advantage. and he took it. grant's army had been marching only two hours when the confederates attack along two parallel lanes perpendicular to the union advance. mass confusion followed. as yanks scrambled into that impenetrable underbrush. now the park service rangers
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here who are some of god's given gifts to this country give excellent tours and eliminate my going into detail. sufficient face it to say, the larger the battle grew, the more invisible it became to everyone. thick woods strapped the gun smoke. unbroken thickets offered no field of fire. man came under heavy fire before they saw the enemy. when determined battle lines from the noise in a certain direction. several battles, in fact were raging on a single piece of ground. soon flashing gun power set woods afire. and untold numbers of wounded men north and south were cremated because they could not get away. burning trees only thickened the gun smoke and brought with them a nauseous atmosphere. night came and the tempo of violence slowed but never
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stopped. firing went up and down the lines before returning the full fury and daylight on may 6th. federals came close to breaking lee's position that second day but the arrival of general james longstreet's fresh corps brought a southern attack. both sides were disorganized. longstreet, in fact, was shot by his own men and more hours of death passed before grant's men fell back to the road down which they had been traveling in the beginning. tactically speaking grant had experienced as bad a defeat as hooker had received on the same ground a year earlier. the union army had suffered 17,600 casualties in two days. confederate losses were less than half that number. now this is where i digress a bit from pure military historians. when casualties are mentioned,
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and every civil war student thinks of aggregate numbers and moves on to a more interesting aspect on the battle, totally overlooked in this approach is the human element in combat. let me take one example. in the two days of the wilderness the vermont breg aid all legends from vermont suffered 191 killed, and 947 wounded. over a third of its strength. look again at that number of injured. 947. two days after the battle surgeon william sloan of the 2nd vermont told a friend i am very tired. i have amputated 100 limbs today. now, if the surgeon was not exaggerating, and no reason exists to believe that he was, then he was cutting off an arm or a leg every ten minutes
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during a 17-hour period. a modern day orthopedist would not even consider working at 10% of that speed. and further, one can only speculate on how many of those 100 patients fell victim to sepsis and other failed diseases. well the heavy losses and stunning defeat of the wilderness, of course, once again it was time for the union army to retreat, attend to its wounds, and come back at some future time and do it again. but he didn't see it that way at all. for him two days of vicious fighting were but a momentary setback. nothing had occurred to alter his original intent. he had every aim to fulfill the promise he had made to lincoln. quote, whatever happens, there will be no turning back. the defeat of lee's army was still the major objective
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despite woods full of gun smoke, dead men and dying men, and the woods of the wilderness. hence on the night of may 7th the union army resumed its march heading south. around when the column turned toward richman, a yank noted how our spirits rose that night we were happy. this this was unquestionably one of the grand moments of the american civil war. the wilderness was not going to be another manassas or chancellorsville, with the union army tucking its tail between its legs and going back to washington in search of a new commander. this time there was to be no turning back. no collapse of morale. no finger pointing no clamor for a new army commander. the union army was absolving its losses and utilizing its strength as a determined general led it southward.
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for the next 11 months, save for a brief time in june the two armies were never out of contact. it was a pounding, unrelenting campaign. the one type of war with which robert lee could not cope. he could interfere with grant's plans, but he was in no position to impose plans of his own. fighting of some degree occurred every day from may to the following april. tens of thousands of soldiers were killed or crippled in the process. union resources and persistence would shatter confederate resistance and spirit until it all came to a merciful end at appomattox. but it is not an exaggeration to say that the wilderness was the first sign of the sunset of the confederacy. a few miles north of here on a little clearing at the site of
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where the 1863 battle occurred, lost amid all the commercialism is a monument. that monument is to the 23rd new jersey. the bronze plaque on the front of the stone obelisk contains the expected phrase, to the memory of our heroic comrades who gave their lives for their country's union on the battlefield. okay. but walk around to the side of that stone marker. there's another identical plaque there. and on it are the words to the brave alabama boys, our opponents on the field of battle, whose memory we honor. think about that. for a moment. england never constructed a memorial to french soldiers after the battle of waterloo.
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the generals have never dedicated a marker to polish suffering at warsaw. but we are americans. we are americans. we see things. and we do things. a little different than other people. because we are brothers all. members of a country like the world has never seen before. and so it is right and fitting that we gather together this morning here on ground made holy by the blood of patriots. we remember, because we cannot forget. what happened at the wilderness was a stepping stone in the evolution of a word one rarely hears anymore, and that word is union. it was for union that each side fought 150 years ago. it is for union that our dedication must always be. without union, we have no nation. only with it can we collectively hope for the future.
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although i spent over a half century in university classrooms, i know that history is not everyone's favorite subject. indeed, one occasionally, my goodness, encounters the misguided who want to change the past in order to make it conform to a pleasant day agenda. it's called political correctness. it's nonsense. you cannot alter the past. you can only learn from it. and believe me, history is the best teacher any of you will ever have. so we have to look back to see where we're going, and there is no other guide. so today we look back at the wilderness. we look back with all with reverence and installation. what those men in the north and south gave we all share.
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we must treasure those sacrifices always as being among our richest possessions. may god continue to bless this land we all call our home. thank you. [ applause ] [ applause ] >> the incredible violence of 1864 reflected the immense stakes, and the men in both armies recognized that connection. before 1864, soldiers might have been under fire for eight hours during an entire year.
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during the overland campaign, they were sometimes under fire for eight hours or more in a single day. on may 12th, 1864, walter battle of the fourth north carolina fought just a few hundred yards from where you sit today. for nearly 20 hours. he recorded he fired away 120 rounds of ammunition himself, three cartridge boxes full, slogging through trenches filled with water, wounded and dead men. friday morning, may 13th, about an hour before day, we evacuated the works. i don't suppose there's any man that can express the relief we felt after getting out of such a place. he remembered fighting for those 22 hours without a morsel of food or a drop of water. you can form some idea of what our feelings would have been, putting all these prizations
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together. had there been no danger impending, but add to all of this the thought that the next minute may be your last, which is another thing altogether. there's not a man in this brigade who will ever forget it. >> for days, weeks, it continued. from the wilderness to spotsylvania, to apot my creek, cold harbor, a union surgeon exclaimed at the end of may 1864, oh, why will not the confederacy burst up. the experience left soldiers bewildered. from a letter of a member of the first united states sharp shooters, george a. martin, may 15th, 1864. people say it's monday. i never knew it was sunday yesterday, until about sunset. the days have got so mixed up,
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that i can't keep the run. some days have two nights. and some no night at all. the sun rises in the southwest. i am so mixed up at that. the toil and stress begot exhaustion and inexpressible sadness. chaplain francis perkins of the 10th massachusetts, may 15th, 1864. you have been expecting doubtless some accounts of the movements occurring during this campaign. but never did i feel so utterly adverse to writing. never did it seem so almost impossible to connect and express any thought as now. all my energies of thought and emotion are used up by the actual passing events. and to recall the past is positively painful. our brave fellows, they have melted away, like smoke.
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[ bagpipes playing ] ♪ ♪
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♪ >> all that had been wagered in this war treasure lives. there was no turning back. for the armies there were no turning points, just crossroads.
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literal and symbolic. in the wilderness, at the spots imvain yeah courthouse. grant chose the road south toward richmond, toward petersburg. it was a tide rather than a moment. lee could not stop it. still, the confederates remained fiercely determined. the rebellion dies very hard one ar tillerman told his hometown newspaper. newspapers across the south noted grant's army at cold harbor stood almost precisely where mcclellan stood in 1862, but had suffered hor rrendous casualties in getting to the same place. they maintain great hope lee would triumph. certain that lee and his men would somehow inflict a fatal blow to the north's willingness to fight. in the union army that june,
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soldiers saw the spires of richmond just eight miles away. union soldiers, too, gained hope from that. but recognized, too, how hard those last eight miles would be. a pennsylvania soldier wrote of the moment, in the prospects, there's a magic influence in the expression as it passes from lip to lip. eight miles from richmond, boys. only eight miles from richmond. what treasure, what a restored peaceful happy in the united country and the a free government can pay for the precious blood that must be shed in the inexpressible sufferings that must be endured before this short distance can be accomplished. that pennsylvanian could not likely have imagined just how painful the answer to that question would be. we hope that you will join us, the staff here at fredericksburg
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and pospotsylvania and petersbe. one that reverberated across america, touching families and communities across the land. it is a sad but difficult story to be sure, full of bitterness and pain, loss and sacrifice. but the hardship is also a measure of the commitment and the determination of those who are here. and we hope as you walk these fields and woods, home places, and crossroads, in the coming days and weeks, that you will constantly ask yourself this question. why? why did these men consent to such hardship? why did they do what they did? the answers to these questions are on these fields.
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and in the words of those who were here. we hope you will join us in our collective quest for answers, for their questions that are essential to the health of our nation. we thank you for coming. [ applause ] next, on the civil war, author dpord an rhea discusses the significance of the battle of cold har bar, which took place in virginia 150 years ago in may and june of 1864. rhea describes the strategies of grant and robert e. lee. as well as the challenges they faced during the battle. this hour-long event took place at the cold harbor battlefield in mechanicsville, virginia.
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>> well, thank you very much, bob. i appreciate it. and as i told the folks i talked with this morning, it's an honor for me to be here. there's something special about the battle field here at cold harbor. i came about my interest in the american civil war, i'm sure very much like most of you did. i got it from my father. my dad was born in 1901 in a little town on the tennessee/alabama board. it was just 35 years after the end of the civil war. most of those old men sitting around the grocery store were veterans. he grew up listening to their tall tales and talking to them about their battles. i was born in 1945. and when i grew up, when all of my friends were hearing fairy tales and stories from their parents, my dad was reading me books with names like lee's lieutenants, stuff like that.
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so we visited all the battlefields. we visited obviously gettysburg, chancellorsville. we didn't make any trips to cold harbor, though, because there really wasn't all that much here. we didn't go to the north anna battlefield because it didn't even exist. the overland campaign, which is the campaign that brings grant and lee to where we are now, really wasn't the focus of that much american military history. all eyes seemed to be on the earlier battles in the war. what i'd like to do is take a couple of minutes to orient you to help you understand why it is the armies ended up down here at cold harbor, and then i'll take a little bit more detailed view of that battle itself. you can understand what happened here and why it's so special. so those of you who heard me talk this morning, if you can put up with me for four or five minutes while i repeat a little bit of background to get everybody on the same page, then i'll move on to some more detailed information. but i'd like toh


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